Saturday, September 22, 2018



This week I bought a pocket calendar for next year. In fact, it covers 2019 and 2020. I filled in the dates of events such as our community retreat next June and other events that have been scheduled far in advance.

I have a dentist's appointment on March 20, 2019; I've written it in blue ballpoint pen. The page shows the entire month, with the other thirty days blank, waiting to be filled in with my plans as time goes on. As I look at the almost-empty month of March 2019, I wonder what God's calendar for me looks like. What does the Lord have in mind for me next March?

Date of birth, please?
Speaking of which, the other day I went for a routine checkup at the doctor's. When I stepped up to the desk the receptionist greeted me with a big smile and then asked "Father, what's your date of birth?" So I told her. As she typed in the numbers, I asked her "Do you want my expiration date, too?" Her fingers froze for a moment as she looked up at me and gasped in a scolding voice, "What an awful question!"

Heck, I didn't think it was such a terrible thought. I mean, it's not as if I don't have an expiration date, right? I suppose that doctors don't like talking about their patients' expiration dates. Or, maybe the problem is that I don't know the date when I'm due to expire? Is it so close that it could be scheduled on my 24-month pocket calendar?

This morning I started to look at tomorrow's Gospel passage, for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In the third sentence Jesus tells his disciples that "the Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise" (Mk 9:31).

When I looked at the passage in the original Greek (thank God for my Kindle!) I was surprised to see that "be handed over" is not in the future but in the present tense: The Son of man is being handed over. Hmm. Although the other two verbs are in the future ("they will kill him," "He will rise"), I was still fascinated by the use of the present tense. Was this some quirky trick of Greek grammar?

As I look at the passage now, though, I realize that Jesus is probably referring to the plot that is presently being woven against him: In a sense he is already being handed over. In any case, this mixing of present and future tenses makes for an interesting contrast with my reflections about my new calendar with my hand-written plans and its mostly-empty pages waiting to be filled in in the future.

What do I want those future months to be like? Don't I want them to be filled with love, generosity, gentleness and joy? If so, should I think of those in the future tense, or, taking my hint from Jesus in the gospel, maybe I should think of all these as already happening: March 2019 is already being filled with love, generosity, gentleness and joy? That would mean that I have to start today, in the present tense.

One big step in that direction would be this: I can imagine that every person has their "expiration date" showing on their forehead, and imagine further that their expiration date is today. How kind and considerate I would be to each of them! How caring and encouraging! Well, I don't need their expiration dates, I can just start to  treat everyone like that anyway, starting now. If I live that way, then March 2019 is already being filled with love, generosity, gentleness and joy. Which, I imagine, corresponds well with God's own plan.

It's a good idea to approach this plan with a certain amount of urgency; who knows, my own expiration date may come before next March.

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